In the world of cooking there is a general understanding that some people are bakers and others are not. A different skill set or mental framework, call it what you may, but there is a great divide between the groups. I maintain that there should be a third subset of those who cook and that is the “Salad Makers.”
I firmly believe that you either have it or you don’t. Good salad makers never use a recipe. As a matter of fact, they mock precise specifications for their bowls of creativity. The good ones claim, “I just throw everything in.” Oh yeah, right. That is their salad makers code, agreed upon with a secret handshake, to make the less talented unable to succeed.
Being an unfortunate member of the group of salad strugglers, I can say that I have tried the “Garbage Bowl” technique and come out with exactly that, a horrible mish mash of almost inedible greens, vegetables, protein, fruit, nuts and cheese. I try applying my knowledge of perfect pairings–pears go with blue cheese, which goes with walnuts, chicken, arugula, green beans, red bell peppers, sliced mushrooms, fresh peas, a little dill, and…do you see where this is headed?
And then there’s the dressing, “Just balance your oil with 2/3 more acid–choose what you like, lemon, vinegar, whatever, and add a touch of sweetness. Oh, and a little Dijon mustard.” Right!
My dear friend Hilary (Hil, I’m sorry to call you out here), is guilty of these sort of laissez-faire instructions, probably because she is a salad savant. Every bowl she touches turns to gold. She claims it’s because she makes a salad every single day, often twice a day, but I maintain that if I could make a salad as good as hers, I, too, would eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Practice makes perfect does not apply when salad making isn’t instinctual, so I rely on my ability to know a good recipe when I read one. And then I follow the instructions to the teaspoon. This salad recipe was introduced to me by said Hilary, the Salad Savant. I think it was her lob, tossed out of sympathy upon realization that I am clearly deficient in an area of her great strength. I have gone on to make this salad more times than I can count because it is such a winner. So simple, so uniquely flavored and undeniably delicious that even I can’t mess it up. So go ahead, pull out that great big wooden bowl and mix this baby up. Dress the spinach just before serving (the image below was taken before the salad was dressed) and bring it to the table with a great big Cheshire Cat grin. If I can do it, so can you.
- ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup roughly chopped raw cashews
- 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 3 tablespoons mango chutney
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lime, halved
- 6 cups baby spinach
- In a fine-mesh sieve or colander, mix the onion with ½ teaspoon of the kosher salt. Set aside for 5 minutes, then rinse under cold water. Transfer to paper towels and set aside.
- In a large skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the cashews and curry powder and cook, shaking the pan often, until the cashews are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in ½ teaspoon of the kosher salt and turn out onto a large plate to cool.
- In a salad bowl, whisk together the mango chutney, oil, remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, black pepper and the juice of half the lime. Add the spinach, onions and cashews and toss to coat. Squeeze the remaining half lime over the salad, gently toss and serve.
- If you would like to prepare this salad in advance, place all of the salad ingredients in the bowl and prepare the dressing in a separate container. Pour dressing over salad just before serving and finish with the squeeze of lime.